January 28, 2019

After Eight Games in Conference

                                                   After Eight Games in Conference

                                                                  Warren Grimes

            After eight games in the Pac 12, Stanford is 7-1, and 17-2 overall.  Stanford looked like a top 10 team in victories over Washington State and Washington.  This last weekend was not Stanford’s best, with a hard fought win in Boulder against a team that has yet to win in conference, and a tough loss in Salt Lake City to upstart Utah, now also 7-1 in conference.  Yes, Stanford does have a target on its back. 

            If you’d told me at season’s outset that Stanford would be 17-2 at January’s end, I’d have been pleased.  I might have guessed that the two losses would be to Baylor and Tennessee.

So much for that.  Instead Stanford has lost to two very good and tournament bound teams that, however, are not top 10 teams (Gonzaga and Utah).  There are striking parallels in the two losses.

            Both were road games against teams highly motivated to take down Stanford.
            Both opponents shot well from distance (Gonzaga 61.5%; Utah 45.8%)
            Alanna Smith played limited minutes in both games because of foul trouble.
            Stanford staged strong, but ultimately unsuccessful, second-half rallies in both.
            There were, however, significant differences.  The Zags dominated the boards; the Utes did not.  Stanford was even on rebounds in Salt Lake City.  Stanford, however, missed a lot of points in the paint in the early going against Utah.  Overall, Stanford shot only 38.5% against Utah, well below its 46% for the season.  From distance, Kiana Williams was 1-8  and Alanna Smith was 3-9. 

            How much did Smith’s foul trouble matter?  Against the Zags, Smith played 24 minutes and had 13 points and 7 boards.  But Smith’s interior defense could be replaced by Nadia Fingall and Maya Dodson.  Against Utah, both of these players were unavailable.  Smith had 19 points and 9 boards against Utah, so she was still offensively productive.   The most obvious loss may have been defensive.  Smith had to be less aggressive on the defensive end, and her teammates may have had to sag off Utah’s distance shooters to protect Smith from further fouls.

            Even in the loss to Utah, there were positive signs.  The Hulls continue to shine.  Lexie had 10 points and 2 boards in 33 minutes.  In the same time, Lacie had 7 points, 3 boards and 3 assists.  One of Lacie's assists was a fast break floater to DiJonai Carrington, which she grabbed and converted  while doing her own float to the basket.  The Hulls collectively were 5 for 8 from the foul line, ending their perfect foul shooting streaks.  But there is no doubt that the team’s foul shooting is on the rise (67% against Utah compared to 58% against Gonzaga).  For the season, Stanford is now shooting 71.3% from the foul line. 

            Stanford is a better team now than it was against Gonzaga.  In a rematch against Utah (and possibly in the Big Dance against Gonzaga), Stanford will be favored.  Stanford’s biggest vulnerability, however, continues to be on the inside.  The team needs Maya Dodson back.  This weekend against California, the pivotal factor may be whether Smith can play hard while avoiding fouls. 

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